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Opinion

‘Honeymoon with the Saudi Arabia PIF could end sooner than people might think’

5 days ago
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I am enjoying the end of the Mike Ashley era, having been a Newcastle United supporter for most of my life, I will hang onto the euphoria for days to come.

However, it is also a time for reflection; as I and perhaps a significant minority are going to find it difficult to support a Newcastle United taken over by the Saudi Arabia PIF (Public Investment Fund); an agency wholly owned by the Government of Saudi Arabia.

When in early April 2021 ‘The Mag’ published my view of a PIF takeover, around one hundred people made comments.

The thrust of some comments ran along the lines of ‘..lots of people take the Saudi money, so why shouldn’t we?…other countries abuse people’s rights, but we still trade with them..’ and ‘..football is all about money..’ and so on.

At risk of being called Mother Theresa again, I don’t see it that way.

The club I have supported for fifty-five years, plus the devoted supporters I have known, are better than that. Maybe many supporters don’t care where the money comes from – but a minority do.

Comments on my April submission also doubted my credentials as a supporter. I reply that I started to support United in the middle years of Joe Harvey’s management. I worked part-time at Woolworth’s, so I could seldom afford the turnstile price. Undaunted, my friends Ian, Claire and I became United ‘Golden Goal’ prize ticket sellers at every home match. The prize for us was free entry to the Leazes End. Happy days.

But with the takeover by the Saudi Arabia PIF, my unwavering support for Newcastle United through a rollercoaster of the club’s ups and downs, is now on hold. I know I am not alone in finding it an ask-too-far to support a club which has now become a cog in a state-owned agency of an authoritarian regime.

Before readers post comments; I would ask them consider that the regime’s values are numbingly at odds with those which many generations of British men and women have fought so hard for. It is said that corruption is systemic and endemic in Saudi Arabia; and it is true that political parties and national elections are not permitted. The state is an ‘Absolute Monarchy’ and its approach to human rights, in particular women’s rights, is lamentable. Some will say that as Saudi Arabia PIF has been allowed to ‘sportswash’ in the Premier League, attention to the abuses of human rights’ in Saudi Arabia will be deflected? I would say that the club has swapped one authoritarian owner for another.

Of course, good riddance to Mike Ashley. However, I firmly believe that the honeymoon with the Saudi Arabia PIF and its aftermath could end sooner than people might think, possibly in acrimony. Bizarrely, this could make Mike Ashley look like a saint.

I will keep an eye on United.

Time will tell, but I very much hope that some day soon, someone with a moral compass will own the North-East’s premier football club and make it, for all of us, once again, a club we can be proud of.

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